Uniforms play a key role in fandom as the jerseys worn by players ultimately serve as packaging for the product fans consume. With every NBA franchise implementing at least one new uniform this season, a few teams/brands have generated enthusiasm among their fanbases while others have left much to be desired.
Which uniforms best enhance a franchise's overall brand? Which fail to do so? What common denominators can we observe in those that work well and those that do not? These are the questions Mike and I seek to answer in this week's podcast.
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Because these rankings are subjective in nature, I understand that readers may disagree with my personal opinions. My aim is to spark a discussion on the importance of uniforms in sports and why some are embraced by fans while others are not. I welcome and even encourage the opinions of readers in the comments and/or on Twitter (@FanalyticsMike). I want to know why a reader may think I'm wrong about their team's ranking and why their fandom embraces a look that I may not understand.
Here are my rankings for the entire league as well as brief explanations for each. Mockups are from NBA Jersey Database and NBA Locker Vision.
30. Charlotte Hornets
Sometimes I forget that the Charlotte Hornets are an NBA basketball team, and can't imagine that forgettable jerseys help the brand's cause. These threads combine elements of the franchise's first ever uniforms with the modern style the Hornets adopted in their 2014 rebrand. Perhaps the throwback elements would evoke more of a positive reaction had the franchise made it further than the first round of the Playoffs in its winningest season ever (1996-97). As it stands, these are arguably the least aesthetically pleasing and least iconic jerseys in the NBA.
29. Orlando Magic
Orlando's main uniforms have hardly changed since 2008, but the Magic mixed it up with their 2020-2021 Florida orange-inspired City Edition uniforms. Unfortunately for the Magic franchise, orange is not, in fact, the new black.
28. Sacramento Kings
Call me crazy, but I think the Kings' City Edition uniforms are their best ever. It's too bad the franchise's brand is largely tied to an entirely different color scheme.
27. New Orleans Pelicans
I think the Pelicans 2020-2021 City Edition uniforms may be the franchise's best since their 2013 rebrand. But it's only because of how mediocre the team's uniform selection has been in that span.
26. Phoenix Suns
The Suns would be even further back if not for their unique and aesthetically pleasing City Edition threads.
25. Washington Wizards
It's hard to mess up the colors red white and blue, but the Washington Wizards try their best. All in favor of rebranding as "The Washington Basketball Team" say "aye!"
24. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks previously donned my least favorite uniforms in all of basketball, so this year's designs are a breath of fresh air despite a lack of cohesion. After changing color schemes 10+ times in franchise history, Atlanta's gold and black alternates have been welcomed by fans in recent years. With their current home and away jerseys looking eerily similar to 1970s Houston Rockets throwbacks, perhaps Atlanta should adopt this red, black, and gold concept that takes the Hawks' current design a step further. After all, such a color pallet would make the Hawks feel familiar to fans of the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United, Atlanta Braves, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and Georgia Bulldogs.
23. Cleveland Cavaliers
The only noticeable change since LeBron's second departure is Cleveland's all black City edition uni. I don't hate these, but I will always prefer the set of uniforms LeBron James wore in his first stint with the Cavs.
22. Memphis Grizzlies
The blue on blue color scheme has never worked for me. But much like last year's Hardwood Classics threads, these Grizzlies' throwbacks are so bad that they're good. Maybe even great.
21. Detroit Pistons
I don't care how dated the design may be, a team can never go wrong donning the jerseys worn by a dynasty. I have Detroit this low due to their Statement jerseys. I have yet to find an example of a grey basketball uniform that just works.
20. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers' modern home and away jerseys are clean, but their alternates leave much to be desired. While I understand the nod to Indiana's pre-1990's squads with the City Edition color choice, something feels wrong about wearing different shades of the same colors from night-to-night.
19. Milwaukee Bucks
The home, away, and Statement unis are fine. Not great. Just fine. But the blue City Edition disrupts all brand consistency in an attempt to pay tribute to the meaning of the word "Milwaukee" as well as Lake Michigan (really).
18. Oklahoma City Thunder
As much as I hated everything about the rebrand when the Super Sonics relocated to Oklahoma City, years of playoff contention and consistent branding have normalized what was once a foreign color scheme and team name. I don't love the design of their alternates, but OKC's choice to stick with their core color pallet has helped them maintain a unique identity in their 10+ years as the Thunder.
17. New York Knicks
The Knicks probably wouldn't be this high if they were some new franchise with the same threads. But the New York Knicks are a classic brand, and fans feel like they're watching the franchise that once dominated the league when they see those old school orange and blue unis. I might have them higher on my list if not for the gimmicky new City Edition jerseys.
16. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves had some of my favorite uniforms of all time during the Kevin Garnett era, yet their 2017 redesign works for the modern era. However, as is the case with many City Edition uniforms across the league, the wildlife-inspired black on black unis feel forced.
15. Dallas Mavericks
The 21 & under GOAT Luka Doncic rips up his jersey from time to time. And it seems as though Dallas introduces a new look for every time he does. The Mavericks have explored pairing their newest international phenom with every color combination the franchise has ever possessed. With fans and players preferring the Mavs' throwback green look, I would not be surprised to see Dallas depart from the blue and white uniforms that Dirk Nowitzki wore in his prime years. For now, the navy blue Statement Edition is the look most unique to the Luka era.
14. Brooklyn Nets
I remember when Jay-Z helped to craft a distinct-yet-timeless look for the Nets when they moved to Brooklyn in 2012. Those threads have aged well, but I can almost guarantee you the alternates they've unveiled since will not. Brooklyn's 1990 throwbacks help to compensate for the other alternates, but a 1978 Dr. J throwback would put them much higher on the list for me.
13. San Antonio Spurs
As I wrote for the Pistons, a franchise can never go wrong repping the look from their dynasty years. San Antonio could be in the top fifteen of my list forever if they never change those primary uniforms. The "fiesta" look fans have clamored for pays tribute to the franchise's past without completely abandoning its current branding. But the grey on grey Statement editions are about as bland as they come.
12. Los Angeles Clippers
This might be the best set of uniforms the Clippers have ever had. Unlike the Nets, it's the alternates that have LAC this high on my list rather than the standard jerseys. The City Edition jersey in particular ties the Clippers to a part of LA that is distinct from the Lakers' jurisdiction. For once, the Clippers don't feel like a poor man's Lake show. They embody a tougher, grittier sector of the city that's typically known for its elite Hollywood stars. The Clippers feel rebellious in these, and I would imagine the City unis help to attract fans who identify with the underdogs.
11. Toronto Raptors
Toronto took a step back from their glorious Kawhi Leonard threads when they introduced this arrow look. Nevertheless, red and black almost always works, and the City Edition widens their appeal with the obvious Drake influence.
10. Houston Rockets
As unnecessary as I find the blue, these may be my favorite Houston Rockets uniforms ever from top to bottom. Houston managed to achieve a clean and modern look while maintaining the aesthetic of their most recent iterations. Each of the current uniforms pops on screen.
9. Philadelphia 76ers
I've always found the lettering "PHILA" a bit clunky on a jersey compared to "Sixers." But it's an abbreviation that's entrenched with the Sixers' storied history and helps the franchise establish a classic look. I would have them even higher if not for the busy City Edition.
8. Utah Jazz
Utah masterfully blended modern elements with those of their historic brand when they redesigned their uniforms in 2017. The City Edition adds more modern flavor to the brand as well. Eliminate the all-yellow Statement Edition, and Utah would have a top 5 collection here.
7. Denver Nuggets
Much like Utah, Denver successfully modernized their branding in recent years without abandoning their history. The City Edition looks better on the court than it does in a mockup, and the "Mile High City" Statement jersey feels on-brand for the Nuggets.
6. Miami Heat
The Heat may have overdone this iteration of the famed "Miami Vice" uniform, but this set still ranks among the NBA's elite. Substitute the 2017-2020 "Miami Vice" iterations and the Heat are in the top 3 of this list. All I see are championships won by Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Ray Allen as well as a historic Finals run by Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and company.
5. Chicago Bulls
Chicago historically has my favorite jerseys in all of basketball. Maybe it's the fact that I associate them with the greatest player of all time. Maybe it's the fact that I grew up pulling for a college team donning the same colors. Or maybe the Bulls uniforms are just that good-looking. That said, if I pay top dollar to attend a game at the United Center, the Bulls better not come out in Chicago Theater-themed alternates. These uniforms paired with mediocre on-court play achieve the impossible for Chicago: they make the Bulls feel like a brand new franchise without history or identity.
4. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers' rich history is on full display in this set of uniforms. While the home and away uniforms combine elements from jerseys throughout the 1970s-2010s, the icy City Edition takes Laker fans back even further to the Lakers' Minneapolis roots. While the black stripe on the purple Statement Edition will never look right to me, these uniforms provide something altogether new for fans to forever associate with the LeBron-AD era. This set of uniforms would be ranked higher if not for the blue throwbacks that bear little semblance to the LA Lakers of today and represent a rare era for the Lakers void of any championships.
3. Portland Trail Blazers
With more universally appealing City uniforms, Portland might find itself at the top of this list. Still, the clean red, white, and black uniforms are a fine example of achieving that modern pop while maintaining a historic brand's classic elements.
2. Boston Celtics
Each of Boston's 2020-2021 uniforms point to the brand's history. These home and away jerseys should never change, and the black Statement Edition provides a nice modern alternate. The championship banner-inspired City Edition looks better on paper than on-player. While I admire the brand's intentions with that one, two lines of text simply looks unnatural on a basketball jersey.
1. Golden State Warriors
Golden State's uniforms have had the perfect blend of modern and classic since their 2011 rebrand. They look timeless but still pop off of any television screen. And somehow, some way, the franchise has managed to create a jersey that is both more classic and more modern. The "Oakland" throwbacks may be the only throwbacks I've ever seen improve significantly upon the original design. By merging the color scheme of its 1989-2010 jerseys with the template of the team's modern home and away look, the Warriors have created a uniform that combines the best elements from 50+ years of uniforms.
The NBA has yet to officially announce its Earned Edition uniforms for the 16 teams that made the Playoffs last season. If these leaks are, in fact, worn later this season, Denver and Houston may jump to spots 2 and 3 on my list - mostly because of how bad the jerseys look for other 2020 Playoff teams.
Stream the podcast breaking down these rankings in depth on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.
While we're on the subject of fashion, we want to make you aware of our upcoming webinar with Atlanta fashion icons Sid and Ann Mashburn.
This will take place on March 25th at 1 PM ET. Register here to join us there.